Sorry, Anti-Choicers, But Women Aren’t Mentally Ill Just Because You Want Them To Be

Trying to scare women by touting the risks of abortion—while studiously ignoring the much greater risks of carrying a pregnancy to term—is one of the anti-choice movement’s favorite tactics. (And, as is par for the course with anti-choicers, they can’t help but exaggerate or just plain make up risks in order to up the ante.) The latest in a long string of state bills requiring doctors to provide such misleading literature to women seeking abortion has popped up in Louisiana. But unlike many of these bills, which require doctors to provide literature with lies claiming abortion causes breast cancer and other physical ailments, this bill is focused strictly on false mental health claims.

Under House Bill 1262, which passed the Louisiana House of Representatives on Monday, abortion providers would be required to distribute a pamphlet that includes information about the “alleged psychological effects of abortion,” and lists names of mental health resources for women who are seeking assistance. Patients would be required to sign a form confirming that they received the pamphlet, and then wait at least 24 hours before returning for abortion care.

The committee that’s been assigned the task of writing the pamphlet is made up of anti-choice activists and politicians. Actual mental health professionals were barred from being on the panel, continuing in the grand right-wing tradition of extreme hostility to actual science and evidence. It’s no wonder in this case, since the research on abortion and mental health demonstrates that having an abortion has no impact on later mental health outcomes, meaning that actual mental health professionals might do something unpleasant, like object to flagrant lying to women in an attempt to scare them out of abortion. The sleaziness of this entire operation is hard to overstate.

It’s easy enough to figure out what’s going on here. As with issues, like climate change or evolutionary theory, Christian conservatives have decided that they can ignore scientists, with their “facts” and their “evidence,” and instead choose to believe lies because they sound better to them. For anti-choicers, the logic is straightforward: Women are supposed to be asexual beings who are more interested in having babies than having sex. Since abortion often means a woman was having sex for the enjoyment of it, without being interested in having a baby, that must mean she is malfunctioning. So she’s assigned the label of “crazy,” which is prettied up with faux concerned language about “mental health.”

In other words, these pamphlets are just a gussied up version of trolls on Twitter yelling at women that they are “crazy” if they don’t adhere strictly to the troll’s model of how women should be.

Using feigned concerns about women’s mental health as a cover for efforts to control and oppress them has a long and disturbing history, often involving “treatments” that are clearly just punishments. Charlotte Perkins Gilman famously called this out for what it was in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” her fictionalized depiction of one of these punishment-treatments that was popular in the late 19th century, involving forced isolation under the guise of treatment for “hysteria.” (Nowadays, psychologists rightfully point out that social isolation is actually the cause for mental health damage, so much so that many human rights activists consider the use of solitary confinement in prisons to be a form of torture.)

The use of “mental health” as a cover to punish and shame women for resisting strict gender roles continued on after that, as was documented in the 1978 classic For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts’ Advice to Women, by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deidre English. As with anti-choicers who are so “concerned” about women’s mental health now, Ehrenreich and English found that for two centuries now misogynists have been keen on classifying women as deviant and crazy if they ever showed symptoms of wanting to have more out of life than being a wife and mother, or if they ever had sexual desires that weren’t geared strictly toward procreative purposes.

What’s frustrating is that recent decades have shown a strong move in the medical and psychological world away from that, and toward supporting women’s actual mental health needs, regardless of how closely they’re adhering to female gender roles at any point in time. Respectable mental health professionals these days wouldn’t dare suggest there’s something wrong with a woman who wants to have non-procreative sex or who has a strong desire to control when and if she gives birth. On the contrary, the overwhelming evidence suggests that unintended childbearing has adverse health effects, including mental health effects.

And yet, here we have a bunch of science-rejecting conservatives still clinging to outdated and wholly disproven theories that women are “crazy” for wanting things like non-procreative sex and control over when they give birth. This not only poses a danger to women who are seeking abortion and might feel unnecessary fear about their decisions. By perpetuating the notion that women are “crazy” if they don’t adhere to extremely narrowly prescribed gender roles, anti-choicers are perpetuating mental health stigma and discouraging women who might actually need mental health care from getting it.

The fear of having the misogynist stereotype of the “crazy woman” applied to them surely keeps a lot of women who actually need mental health treatment from reaching out, instead opting to hide their mental health issues and hope that no one notices them. This goes double if you threaten them with mental health damage if they dare get an abortion. Should these women have mental health issues later—which some will, for reasons unrelated to the abortion, and just because a certain percentage of all people have mental health problems—the shaming and fear they got from the state may cause them to fear reaching out, lest they confirm that ugly stereotype.

This is why attacks on abortion have to be understood as being about more than just abortion itself. They inevitably end up having ripple effects that damage seemingly unrelated arenas, such as mental health care. The mental health industry has worked really hard to overturn decades of misogyny disguised as medical concern. Now the anti-choice movement is working to reverse some of the effects of all that hard work.

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  • Arachne646

    I noticed Pope Francis just compared “abortion and infanticide” to the other violence that women are subjected to in this culture of death, which makes us so spiritually and emotionally damaged, or something approximately like that. I must say, my miscarriage of my unwanted accidental pregnancy at 19 was nothing traumatic, and good reproductive health care is nothing like what I would think surviving abuse like beatings by those you care about would be. I know being sexually harassed on the job, or by strangers on the street is a nightmare, especially if you’re young, and that’s far worse than a medical procedure you want desperately, carried out professionally by caring staff.

    • blfdjlj

      His comment would fit a pattern of popes making far-fetched comparisons. Pope Benedict XVI issued a statement on Earth Day I think that saving the world from homosexuality is as important as saving the rainforests.

      • Mummel18000

        And the professional hypocrite, the hysterically overrated Mother Theresa once said that abortion was the worst threat to world peace. If I make a real effort, I might understand why people dislike it (and that would use up all my energy!), but a threat to world peace? How that woman could be considered worthy a Nobel Prize for peace is a disgrace to toher laureates.

        • bitchybitchybitchy

          Mother Theresa was a very safe choice for the Nobel Peace Prize-a frail little old lady who took care of poverty-stricken people who were dying. Put aside the fact that among the reasons they were poverty-stricken and dying would be overpopulation, income inequality, lack of access to jobs and healthcare.

          She and the afore-mentioned popes are all part of a rigidly hierarchical and patriarchal bureacracy. Their views are not surprising;they are, however, dangerous to the health and wellbeing of millions.

  • David Young

    these individuals that came up with this attempt to LIE away abortion is one of the stupidest and mentally ill things i have ever heard of !!

    the person that wrote house bill 1262 and all those on this so called committee NEED to be BAKER ACTED, and most likely they would NOT be out in 72 hours due to their serious delusion problems

    • Guest

      What exactly is baker acted?

      • David Young

        that is when the person is committed by the state for 72 hours to evaluate their mental health.

        it is known as the ” Baker Act”.

        Baker Acting someone is not an easy thing to do. If someone you love is
        out of control and you fear for their safety or the safety of others,
        you can have them involuntarily Baker Acted and observed for 72 hours.
        This term is only used in Florida; other states usually refer to it as
        an involuntary psychiatric hold.

        Read more:

        • Jennifer Starr

          Oh, okay. Thanks for the explanation :)

        • Ivy Mike

          In most parts of Florida, it’s pronounced “Bak’rackted” ( Bake-rackted). Florida, of course, being a state where it’s actually so common that it’s entered the local language.

          I speak as a Floridian, so don’t jump me.

    • Jennifer Starr

      Apologies for my previous post–I didn’t exactly understand what you were saying at first.

  • ansuz

    I couldn’t make it through this without puking. There are just no words.

  • red_zone

    Okay…. correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t a doctor or otherwise medical healthcare practitioner supposed to give their patients the facts on their course of treatment and come to an informed decision what course of action to take for themselves with advise from their doctor?

    Because I’m pretty sure that misleading/outright lying to your patients is grounds for losing your medical license. how many of these people on the board would sue their own doctors if they lied to them on their treatment options?

    if this passes and some innocent woman looking at abortion decides not to do so because of these false claims DIES as a result of a pregnancy that was shown to be dangerous, then heads will roll.

    • blfdjlj

      Lose-lose situation. If you don’t provide lies, you are breaking the law. If you provide lies, you could potentially forget about your license.

      The point is to stop any doctors from carrying out abortions, which they have already succeeded at to an extent.

      • JamieHaman

        There are now unsafe abortions, due to women going to Mexico for drugs, and abortions being carried out by alternative medications as well.
        Lying to a patient, is just another way for women to be denied proper health care, and may very well deny them access to otherwise needed mental health care, Dammed shame Louisiana.

        • blfdjlj

          True, but unfortunately the Taliban-like fanaticism of these laws is nothing new. In North Carolina, a stayed law would have forced doctors not only to perform an ultrasound, but to also read a detailed description to the woman. Don’t worry, she could have legally still closed her eyes or soundproofed her ears.

          A proposed law in Alabama would target women who are carrying fetuses that can’t survive post-birth, and push them to give birth to babies that would die hours after birth.

          Speaking of the Mexican drugs, flea markets selling them have been raided by police in Texas. And guess who the sellers blamed for that? You’re right, Obama.

    • JamieHaman

      The law allowing these lies, will be the defense in court. Doctors will keep their licenses. The question is will women (and the men who love them) keep the legislators who write, and then vote for these stupid laws. And the kicker is that those citizens may not actually get a choice. Here in Texas, the usual choice is between bad for women, and outright worse for women. Mississippi may have the same kind of bad choices.

    • Amanda Marcotte

      Yep, which is why doctors are up in arms about these laws. I will say that thankfully First Amendment protections are in play that allow a doctor to hand you the pamphlet and say, “Hey, the state requires me to give you this, but don’t be too bothered by it. It’s a pack of lies.” The hope from anti-choicers is the fear nags a woman anyway. They know, I suspect, she’ll have the abortion anyway. They just want her to experience more fear over it.

      • red_zone

        I don’t know why, but I have the all-too-distinct feeling that this will, at some point in the not-so-distant future, blow up in the faces of those pushing for such laws. Something is going to happen (LOTS of doctors are going to start a movement and speak out and DEMAND that abortion be kept legal and readily accessible in all states, a major jump in maternal/infant mortality rates, etc that will be made public, the revelation of a major anti-choice female politician or an an anti-choice politician’s wife had an abortion or even more than one in the last few years) and there will be NO escaping it or getting out of it; it will seriously damage the so-called ‘pro-life’ movement to the point where it will no longer be what it is now and will likely never regain the power it had.

        You know why I’m certain this will happen? Because it’s happened before. In other countries, when it was proven, beyond a doubt, the harm that outlawing abortion has done; to women, to families, to society in general. those laws got thrown out, they improved healthcare for women and families and they are healthier by far, than most states.

        I cannot imagine the impact such revelations will have on THIS nation as a whole.

  • blfdjlj

    Republicans are unfortunately still stuck somewhere in the 1950s, if not even earlier….

    • Ivy Mike

      No….they want to return to the ’50’s. Or at least, what they THINK they were like. They see that time as an idyllic, almost utopian time of American history. Actually, they see the ’50’s as some combination of the Andy Griffith show and “Leave It To Beaver”.

      It’s like watching a Roy Rodgers western and believing that the real West of the 1870’s was really like that.

      In essence, they are trying to create a fantasy world in reality. Never works out well.

  • JamieHaman

    I used to say abortions ought to be safe, legal, and rare.
    Now I say abortions need to be safe, legal, and Available, with out the BS.

  • TheBrett

    That’s incredibly sleazy, although probably not surprising coming from corrupt, religious Louisiana (the state that gave us the joy of several creationism vs science Supreme Court cases). On the bright side, they’re not forcing someone to stand by the woman and make sure she actually reads the stupid thing, so she can pretend-read it and throw it away afterwards (the 24 hour waiting period is much worse).

  • Suba gunawardana

    The ONLY reason anti-choicers care about abortion is that it’s a women’s rights issue. The only reason they “care” about fetuses is that they live inside women’s bodies.

    If fetuses happened to be living free in the wild, they will be holding contests on who could shoot the most fetuses & mount them on his wall.

  • Rainbow Walker

    It isn’t just social isolation that causes psychological dysfunction. When a group or individuals intentionally single out an individual [in this case gender], it can lead to serious
    problems. Denial of one’s desires, ideas and perception to satisfy the group is
    very harmful.

    It all boils down to control. Religion [indeed any dogma] has an insatiable need to control. With the passing of Terry Beresford I am reminded of how fragile our rights are. We need to remember her [and those like her] who worked tirelessly to make sure women had a voice
    and a choice.

  • ldwendy

    This article by Amanda is being “criticized” on Live Action News.

    liveactionnews dot org/rh-reality-check-proves-again-that-they-dont-understand-the-aftermath-of-abortion/#disqus_thread

    I’ve been banned from LAN so I can’t post there anymore. Sigh.

    • fiona64

      They just want their little echo chamber so that they can pretend to be all smart and stuff. They’re pitiful, every one of ’em.

  • Ashley Marie Ostrowski

    Once again showing misogyny and a lack of caring for those who have already existed the birth canal.